PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing a terrifying event. Most people will experience one or a few traumatic events in their lifetime, but not everyone will develop PTSD. It is natural to experience fear during and after the traumatic experience, but most people will be able to recover from these initial symptoms naturally. But for those who continue to experience problems (eg. feeling stressed or afraid even when not in danger) may be diagnosed with PTSD.
The mental health disorder is triggers when a person undergoes or witnesses a traumatic event. The most common traumatic events that lead to the development of PTSD are combat exposure, childhood physical abuse, sexual violence, physical assault, being threatened with a weapon, or an accident. Other traumatic events such as fire, natural disaster, mugging, robbery, plane crash, torture, kidnapping, life threatening medical diagnosis, terrorist attack, and other extreme or life threatening events may also lead to the development of PTSD.
Doctors aren’t entirely certain why some people develop the mental health condition. It is a mix of various factors such as stressful experiences including the amount and severity of trauma that a person underwent, inherite mental health risks, a person’s temperament, and the brain’s regulation of chemicals and hormones in response to stress.
Some people are more likely to develop PTSD compared to others because of certain risk factors which include:
- experiencing intense or long lasting trauma
- Childhood trauma
- A job with exposure to traumatic events (eg. military personnel, first responders)
- Other mental health problems
- Problems with substance misuse (eg. excessive drinking, drug use)
- Lack of a good support system, or having blood relatives with mental health problems.
Patients who have developed PTSD will experience the manifestation of symptoms about 3 months or even years after the traumatic event. For a person to be considered to have developed the disorder, the symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough that it causes problems with relationships or work. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, adults must have all of the following symptoms for at least a month: at least one re-experiencing symptom, at least one avoidance symptom, at least two arousal and reactivity symptoms, and at least two cognition and mood symptoms.
Re-experiencing symptoms include flashbacks, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts.
Avoidance symptoms include staying away from the places, events, or objects that remind of the traumatic events; and avoiding thoughts or feelings that are related to the traumatic event.
Arousal and reactivity symptoms include being easily startled, feeling tense, difficulty in sleeping, and having angry outbursts.
Cognition and mood symptoms include trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about oneself or the word, distorted feelings like guilt or blame, and loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
It is natural to experience these symptoms after the traumatic event. Sometimes, people will recover from very serious symptoms after a few weeks. The term for this is acute stress disorder. Meanwhile, if these experiences continue it will have serious impacts on the person’s ability to function normally. At this point the patient will most likely have the diagnosis of PTSD.
In the United States, 8% of the American population (around 24.4 million people) have PTSD at any given time.
Because it is a mental health disorder, PTSD is treated with a combination of methods which include psychotherapy and medications. Psychotherapy helps patients cope with the traumatic event effectively.
Pharmaceutical drugs help improve symptoms of PTSD. Below are some examples.
Antidepressants help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. They can also help with sleeping problems and concentration. However, patients might experience side effects such as upset stomach, sweating, headache, and dizziness. In some cases, patients also experience sexual side effects (eg. decreased sexual desire or difficulty having an orgasm).
Anti-anxiety medication help patients feel relaxed and more at ease. However, these drugs have the potential to become habit-forming or addictive.
While prazosin will not cure PTSD, it helps with insomnia and reduction of nightmares. Usage, however, might cause side effects such as dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, lack of energy, weakness, palpitations, and nausea.
PTSD and Medical Marijuana
Studies have shown that patients who used medical marijuana had more than 75% reduction in PTSD symptoms. Compare that to those who did not use them. Another study shows that about 72% of patients using marijuana had a far fewer nightmares or stopped having them altogether. Some patients also saw benefits in their amount of sleep and their waking PTSD symptoms.
Veterans groups such as the American Legion are actively push for the legalization of medical marijuana. According to spokesman Joe Plenzler, soldiers with the mental health conditions have seen improvement. Soldiers are turning to medical cannabis as an alternative to the “zombie drugs” (eg. opioids and antidepressants) for PTSD. The shift to medical cannabis had a great impact on their moods, personality, and even lessened their thoughts of suicide.